By now, almost everyone has heard the story of how Ebola made its way into the United States. The now-deceased Thomas Eric Duncan visited a Dallas emergency room on September 25, complaining of nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and headaches. He and a companion sat in an emergency room with 5-10 other patients for close to an hour before a triage nurse evaluated him. Mr. Duncan informed a nurse that he had recently been in Liberia, where Ebola had been raging. Despite this information and presenting with symptoms that could indeed be indicative of Ebola, hospital officials sent him home with antibiotics. A nurse did log the fact that he had recently been in Liberia. However, according to the Denver Post, there is no indication in his medical records whether this information was passed on to the treating physician. He was discharged early on September 26, just after his fever hit 103 degrees. After Mr. Duncan went home, he returned to the hospital three days later much sicker. This time, he was put in isolation at the hospital. He died on October 8 at age 42.
On July 1, 2013, SB 1792 became law. SB 1792 is significant because it makes medical malpractice lawsuits more difficult to pursue. The law has three main components. First, the law clarified a question in response to a 2012 case that questioned whether or not a health care practitioner or provider could consult with an attorney before serving as a witness in a medical negligence action: yes, a healthcare practitioner or provider may indeed consult with an attorney before serving as a witness in a medical negligence action. During that consultation, the practitioner or provider may disclose to his attorney information disclosed by a patient as well as any medical records pertinent to the case.
Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court repealed a 2003 law that placed limits on financial awards in wrongful death suits. Previously, families could receive no more than $1 million in non-economic damages for wrongful death cases resulting from medical malpractice, regardless of the number of claimants. (Non-economic damages are intangible costs that can be difficult to quantify, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and permanent impairments.) Supporters of the former law claimed it was a crucial tool for limiting rising insurance rates in an effort to keep more doctors in the state.
When someone dies as a result of another's negligence (where "another" may refer to either an individual or an institution), the surviving members of the family have the right to file a wrongful death suit. Similar to medical malpractice, these suits try to obtain compensation for items such as lost wages, funeral expenses, and the most difficult to define category - pain and suffering.
Although acetaminophen has been a common staple of household medicine cabinets for nearly six decades, concerns about the drug's safety still persist. For many years, the medical community has recognized several serious side effects from exceeding the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen. But as combination drugs containing acetaminophen become increasingly common, it's easier than many people think to reach maximum dosage levels. In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common causes of poisoning worldwide.
According to Diedrich Healthcare's "2013 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis,"which was based on data from the National Practitioner's Data Bank, there were 12,142 payouts for medical malpractice cases in 2012. That breaks down to one payout every 43 minutes. Florida was ranked fifth for payouts, spending over 200 million dollars on medical malpractice settlements in 2012. The majority of those payouts were traced back to misdiagnosis.
In an earlier blog post, we discussed the potential privacy issues attached to a new medical malpractice law that was signed into effect by Governor Scott this June. Effectively, the defendant practitioner could bypass HIPAA and disclose patient information without the presence of the patient or his/her attorney. Additionally, defense lawyers could speak directly to doctors currently treating the plaintiff's injuries.
Public Citizen recently released a report revealing that the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) has approximately 50,000 incomplete files. That's a big number - one that's large enough to beg the question: How can healthcare providers accurately screen their physicians?
In June 2013, Governor Scott signed SB 1792 and HB 7015 into law, introducing two major obstacles to patients filing medical malpractice claims. The changes have been in effect since July 1, 2013, and suing for medical malpractice is now more difficult than ever.